Snow, skullduggery and success...
The 2015 Historic Monte is over and at 3am this morning it was a happy crew stood on the port in Monaco (in the drizzle). The Fulvia didn’t miss a beat all week, using no oil or water, apart from the failure of the wheels which is almost certainly down to how rough the last stage was on Sunday night.
The final day involved 3 stages in the leg back to Monaco before the last two on the “Night of the Turini”.
The day started however with the news that our old teammate, Zac, who went out of the rally on Sunday when a wheel and hub parted from his Escort had uncovered evidence that his car had been tampered with. Definitely not the spirit of the Monte Historic and potentially extremely dangerous... he’s not even the sort of chap that makes enemies so it remains a total mystery why someone would have loosened his hub nuts...
An initial 70km leg under leaden skies that looked full of snow to the first stage at Saint Nazaire passed quickly. And the 23km stage itself went well. With virtually no snow on the stage, we managed to come home 20th with just 4.6 seconds of error, which was just 2.2 seconds more than the winner. So a very pleasing start.
A short 20km liaison leg and it was straight into the Verclause- Eygalayes stage. 37km which we’d been warned was very icy/snowy in places. The initial sections went well, but then we came around a corner onto a steep uphill straight covered in sheet ice to find a Land Rover in the middle of the road, a Lancia Stratos (that it was trying to tow out) on the right hand verge and the Mini that had started 1 minute in front of us in the ditch to the left. Fortunately the studded tyres just managed to stop us piling into the back of 1 of the 3! However, by the time the 4X4 had moved, and we’d managed to find enough traction to climb the hill we were well behind on the watch. We attacked hard for 20km, absolutely flat out across the hills and had just managed to return to target time, when with 5 km to run, we ran out of fuel!!! Again the Fulvia proved that when you really attack, she has a bit of a drinking problem... however, the stage looked all downhill to the finish, albeit with several hairpins so I elected not to stop and continued to the finish “dead stick”... which was reasonably entertaining given the lack of assistance on the brake pedal without the engine running, and the speed I had to carry into some of the hairpins, the final of which we attacked totally sideways in an attempt to carry enough speed onto the flat run to the finish line. We’d lost some 80 seconds (800 points) in the middle of the stage with the snow/blockage so I was pretty pleased to only drop another 25 total in the final 2 checkpoints despite having no engine. We ended up 89th and threw in a churn of fuel at the Stop line.
There followed another 160km of road section before the final pre-Monaco stage, and when we arrived at our planned fuel stop and discovered they had no unleaded of more than 95 RON (which the Fulvia doesn’t run well on) we decided to push onto the next station. And once again I found myself at the side of the road, throwing in a churn of fuel.... finally we managed to fuel up with the Good Stuff and headed up the hill to ZR12: a stage my co-pilot Fred knew well and was therefore able to guide me considerably. You know it’s been a good rally when you end up 54th and you are disappointed, but we only had 7.1 seconds more error than the winner so it wasn’t a bad effort.
So we sprinted down to Monaco in good spirits, pausing for our only service break of the rally when we intercepted Fred’s dad and offloaded our snow tyres and the roof rack so we could be as light as possible for the challenge ahead. We also filled all the churns plus a small 3rd one as insurance following last year’s debacle (see below!).
A quick bite to eat, then a long wait in a great festival atmosphere on the port side for our 11pm departure. Which to be honest is the time when most sensible people are tucked up warm in bed. 170km beckoned, over a 4 hour period, with the 26km Luceram-Lantosque stage to start followed by the 53km stage over the famous Col du Turini.
The 40km up to the first start was uneventful apart from my trying to squeeze a full 5 litres into the Fulvia in the pitch dark just before the start line and failing: at least a litre ended up on my feet which made our car a definite no smoking zone for the night. The stage itself was basically flat out: It was simply too twisty to maintain the average speed (or certainly with my average driving talent) and it was only 4 km from the end that I arrived at the target time, we ended up 113th which was probably about right! Blind panic ensued at the end of the stage as we could smell a very very hot engine with 1km to run... I backed off and parked up as soon as we finished but then spotted the Alpine Berlinetta that was boiling away just in front of us. The effort needed to make the target times did indeed mean that a few cars suffered...
After again pouring a large amount of petrol on my feet in the pitch dark, we headed up to the final stage of the 2015 Monte. This time the stage was far more open and with less black ice it was easy to maintain the average and we were confident of a great result. However, we came home 185th with 4000 points of error. It turned out that just before entering the stage, the ACM had registered the number order of the cars as they entered, however, 2 broke down before the start line, so “officially” we entered the stage 1 minute early, and were 1 minute ahead at each check point. Clearly an error on behalf of the organisers, however given our lowly ranking anyway, not one that they appear keen to fix for us and it probably only makes a difference of about 8 places in the final rankings. So officially we came home 154th, so in the top half of the rally (just).
The final highlight was rally legend, Jean Ragnotti, coming over to congratulate us as we arrived back in the Port of Monaco, he’d obviously heard about our winning the longest stage of the rally! (?).
It’s been a long and incredibly tough rally. We’ve eaten so little that I’ve lost so much weight that my trousers would barely stay up on the walk back to the car this morning, which hopefully means I might fit in my dinner jacket for the gala dinner tonight! We’re shattered, but the sense of achievement is once again enormous.
Thanks go to Fred “Frozone” Ozon, who stepped in to some pretty big shoes at the last minute and was not only a great co-pilot but also great company for the week. Our wives for letting us clear off on “some mad adventure” and holding the fort while we were gone. To all of you who have followed us on here and cheered us on at the side of the road and on twitter! And of course to EFG International without whose kind support we wouldn’t be rallying or blogging!
Final thought though has to be with my traditional Monte co-pilot, Stuart, who went under the knife on Monday in a successful operation: Get well soon buddy and look forward to having you back in 2016!
Your “never thought I’d be a stage winner on the Monte” correspondent